Missing Welch Girls: Crews return to Picher in new search for girls’ remains

PICHER, Okla. — The search is expected to continue Tuesday for the remains of two girls from Welch who were kidnapped and killed more than 20 years ago.

Crews plan to return to Picher, the site of previous searches, to look again for the remains of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman.

Tuesday’s search began at 9 a.m. at the site where investigators say one of the suspected kidnappers moved two within two weeks of the killing in 1999.

FOX23 will bring you updates on the search in the free FOX23 News app. DOWNLOAD here.


Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman have been missing since December 1999. FOX23 has been covering the investigation for years and reported in 2018 when an arrest was finally made in the case.

Bible was staying the night with Freeman to celebrate her 16th birthday that night.

Investigators say Philip Welch, David Pennington, and Ronnie Busick killed Danny and Kathy Freeman then abducted Lauria and Ashley.

Authorities say Welch, Busick and Pennington kidnapped Lauria and Ashley and held them for days torturing them before murdering them and dumping their bodies

Authorities have yet to find the bodies of the two missing girls.

Searching for the remains

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation narrowed down a handful of possible sites where the remains of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman could be located, but have not yet found them.

Investigators focused on several sites in Picher, Oklahoma in July 2019. One of those sites is the property where Philip Welch lived in a mobile home he rented. The property on College Street is the last place the girls were seen alive. FOX23 found several ponds have been recently drained across the street from the College Street property and trees in that area also cleared.

PHOTOS: Dig sites for missing Welch girls in Picher, Oklahoma

Multiple agencies including the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Craig County District Attorney’s Office, the Quapaw Tribe, and others assisted in the dig Tuesday, July 30.

The search July 30 and 31 marked the first large-scale dig for Laura and Ashley’s remains since 2005.

Crews came up empty after two days of digging.

As a part of a deal in court, Busick showed authorities in August 2020 where he says he thought the girls could have been taken.

However, the search again came up empty.

In June 2005, investigators from ten agencies spent days searching in Galena, Kansas. It came after a serial killer, Jeremy Jones, had confessed to the killings and directed authorities to that area. The search came up empty. Jones later recanted his confession. FOX23′s Tiffany Alaniz was at that search for several days

In 2016, FOX23 followed investigators to Chetopa, Kansas where they thought they might find evidence of the girls’ bodies. Crews were unable to locate any remains.

The men suspected in the case

In April 2018, prosecutors filed charges against Ronnie Busick for killing Danny and Kathy Freeman and kidnapping and murdering Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman.

Busick remains in custody in Vinita in the Craig County Jail. His court case had been stalled out as the judge waited on mental competency exams from the defense and prosecution.

Busick in December was found competent for trial.

In 2019, Busick’s attorneys said he doesn’t remember because he was grazed by a bullet in a shooting that happened in 1978. FOX23 has learned Busick has talked in the Craig County Jail telling fellow inmates details about the crimes, but his attorneys have said they cannot release any of that information.

Busick pleaded guilty to accessory to murder on July 15, 2020 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with five years of probation, on Aug. 31.

Philip Welch and David Pennington, the other two suspects have both died. Welch died in 2007 and Pennington died in 2015.